As we approach Christmas week it seems that TV is gearing up for a battle of the period dramas with Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey both duking it out on Christmas Day. Before that however ITV has more costume drama to give us with The Making of a Lady which follows the adventures of Lydia Wilson’s Emily Fox-Seaton as she rises up the social ranks but finds that her new title comes with risks.
When the drama starts Emily is living in a cramped apartment with her best friend Jane while at the same time working for Joanna Lumley’s haughty Lady Byrne who bosses around but never pays her. Emily feels her luck is looking up when Byrne wants to employ a full-time secretary to move into the house and is even more flattered when she is invited to have dinner with assembled guests at the house at a party to welcome home the Lady’s nephew Lord Walderhurst. Walderhurst seems to instantly admire Emily’s practical nature however after she goes ahead with his request to switch the placecards at dinner she is reprimanded and later sacked by Lady Byrne. Emily is then shocked when Walderhurst, who needs a new wife in order to produce an heir, asks her to marry him something she initially refuses to do as she doesn’t love him however she eventually relents after she realises it will bring her security. Following the marriage the pair move into Walderhurst’s creepy stately manor which is staffed by a husband and wife who instantly turn their noses up at Emily’s presence in the house as she isn’t of a noble background. At the same time Emily grows to love Walderhurst and the two eventually spend the night together but her happiness is cut short when her husband decides to return to the army.
Emily requests that Jane be bought into the house as her new ladies’ maid which Walderhurst agrees to if only so his wife can have some company but she isn’t alone for long. Soon arriving to the house are Walderhurst’s cousin Alec and his wife Hester a couple who Emily was initially enamoured with when they attended her wedding as she found them exciting and glamorous. It is clear though that the pair have an ulterior motive stalking around the house and preying on Emily’s good nature in order to become closer to her. When it is revealed that Emily is pregnant the couple decide not to call in the local doctor but instead bring their Indian maid Ameera to the house in order to care for Emily. Of course once again Ameera isn’t there to care for Emily but instead try to make her lose the baby as Alec really intends to take over the house, something he won’t be able to do if a new heir is produced. As time goes on there are spookier goings on as Emily finds herself more and more alone before she eventually realises that Alec and Hester don’t have her best interests at heart.
Personally I really enjoyed the first half an hour or so of The Making of A Lady however when the characters of Alec and Hester appear on the screen, the drama becomes a little bit tedious. It isn’t surprising that the two halves feel a little different as they are actually adapted from two different books the first from The Making of a Marchioness and the second from The Methods of Lady Walderhurst both written by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is the first section that feels a lot richer with the characters of Lord Walderhurst and Lady Byrne really feeling like proper costume drama characters and the theme of romance blossoming after marriage was also an interesting one. The second part felt more like a psychological drama as Lucy’s increasing paranoia over the true motives of Alec and Hester seem more farcical than dramatic. I think my main issue with this part of the story is that the audience clock on quite early that this pair are quite devious and the fact that Lucy is initially too stupid to realise it is more frustrating than anything else. The final ten minutes of the drama also feel incredibly drawn out and a little silly as the couple make one last attempt to finish off Lucy before Lord Walderhurst returns to the house. I have to say I was even a little bored throughout this second act while waiting for Walderhurst to save the day and see if he could save his wife from the clutches of his cousin.
The strength of The Making of a Lady was definitely in its cast with Lydia Wilson really impressing as the practical and warm-hearted Lucy as she even succeeds in bringing some intrigue to the second half of the drama. Wilson also shares some great chemistry with Linus Roache as Walderhurst with the pair being utterly believable as a mismatched couple who are drawn to each other as time goes on. In her handful of scenes Joanna Lumley also impresses as she channels Maggie Smith’s Downton Abbey performance to bring the sneering and class-obsessed Lady Byrne to life. In fact part of the reason that the second half of the drama doesn’t work is because both Roache and Lumley aren’t on screen and a replaced by James D’Arcy and Hasina Haque both of whom really don’t do much for me. Personally the only shining light of the second half of the drama was the almost silent performance of Souad Faress as the sinister Ameerah who is able to suggest the evil traits of her character simply by lurking in the background. The cinematography is also great as it is spins across the vastness of the Walderhurst mansion giving the impression of a ghostly and secluded house that is full of secret corridors and places that people can go unnoticed.
Overall I found that The Making of a Lady was an odd choice to screen just before Christmas as it doesn’t really have the warmth of a Downton Abbey or a Call the Midwife. Instead it is incredibly dark in places and I personally found these touches of psychological horror a little over-the-top and ultimately provide the reasons why this drama starts to lag in its final act. Thankfully though the performances of Wilson, Roache and Lumley will get you through and mean that at least the acting in The Making of a Lady is strong even if the adapted screenplay is incredibly weak in parts.
What did you think of The Making of a Lady? Did you think it was a drama of two halves? Leave Your Comments Below.